After completing our mandatory 14-day quarantine at the Marinabay Hotel, we were able to leave as scheduled on Friday. We were allowed to choose between one of two discharge times: midnight and 6:00 a.m. Because we were relying on a shuttle from our adoption agency and because we were not able to check in at our new hotel until 8:00 a.m., we decided to go with the 6:00 a.m. discharge option.
Neither of us had gotten more than a couple of hours of restless sleep before the alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. We had spent our last full day in quarantine cleaning and repacking for the move. Unfortunately, our largest suitcase was damaged in baggage handling and arrived in Seoul missing zippers for the largest compartment, covered in plastic and taped shut. Thankfully, Bri packed a collapsible duffel bag that we could fill for the move.
For as closely as we were monitored during quarantine, the discharge process was oddly hands-off. We were able to just walk out our hotel room door and head down into the same ballroom where we were processed on entry. We met our neighbors in the hallway who seemed as confused as we were as the four of us fumbled towards the elevators pushing and dragging more bags than we could handle.
When we arrived in the ballroom for discharge processing, there were only a few other guests there. Nobody seemed to know quite what to do or where to go. There were no workers to be found and only a few signs taped up giving us any instruction at all.
As 6:00 a.m. crept up, the line grew longer and more restless. Several people tried their luck at opening the locked exit door in case we were just supposed to walk right out. The stress of being cooped up for 14 days and the audible frustration caused by the unclear discharge process hung heavy in the air as everybody waited for some clearer instructions.
A few minutes past 6:00 a.m., two workers showed up to unlock the door, check passports, and cross us off the list. Once the workers arrived, the process went very quickly. In less than 10 minutes, all of the guests were outside the hotel waiting to get picked up. The scene in the circle drive was chaotic. Cars and taxis and vans came pouring in as everybody made a mad dash for their rides. Drivers walked around with signs calling out names. We listened intently until we could make out “Christopher!” being called from somewhere in the scrum.
We followed our driver out of the circle drive and up the service road to load up the van. We were finally free. It’s like they say, “[y]ou only do two days . . . That’s the day you go in and the day you come out.” Sorry, I re-watched “The Wire” in quarantine . . .
After a quiet, bleary-eyed forty-five-minute ride in the back of the van, we arrived at the Somerset Palace in Jongno-gu. Check-in was smooth and uneventful. After filling out the lease paperwork and charging the stay, we made our way to the room where we will spend the next month.
The room is comfortable and well-furnished. It is essentially a one-bedroom efficiency with a working kitchenette and full bath. Thankfully, the toilet is not as intimidating here as the toilet at the Marinabay Hotel.
What a view!
After unwinding for a little while, we took advantage of the complimentary breakfast served daily at the Somerset Palace. The food was good, and we were so happy to be eating what we wanted at an actual breakfast table with other people around us.
After breakfast, we decided to venture out a little bit to get some snacks and supplies. There are small convenience stores all over the place here, and we found a 7-Eleven within walking distance. There was something a little perverse about traveling across the globe and making our first food purchase at a 7-Eleven.
I decided to try a “Hot 6” energy drink. The jury is still out on whether my shakes that afternoon were due to lack of sleep or the energy drink.
Around mid-afternoon, we decided to head out to eat a late lunch/early dinner at a burger restaurant that came highly-recommended – Bas Burger. Yes, our first sit down meal out of quarantine was a burger. We’re from Wisconsin. Deal with it.
The walk was a quick twenty minutes through a busy area of Jongno. As we walked, we realized that we were passing quite a few embassies, including the U.S. embassy. I got the same feeling walking through this area that I always do whenever I visit Washington D.C. There were a handful of protestors dotting the sidewalks in front of various buildings with signs. We were encouraged to see a couple that seemed to be advocating for the continuation and strengthening of the ROK-USA alliance, though, truthfully, I do not know the exact reasons that anybody was out protesting.
After a delicious meal at Bas Burger, we stopped at another 7-Eleven to try to figure out how to buy and load up T-Money cards. T-Money cards are the equivalent of reloadable metro cards in places like Washington D.C. that can be used on almost any form of public transportation in South Korea. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite figure out what needed to be done, and the 7-Eleven clerk’s English was as limited as our Korean. We withdrew some Korean won from an ATM but were unable to load up the cards.
On our way back to the hotel, we took a slightly different route and found a small road running behind our hotel. It is approximately the size of an alleyway in most American cities, but there were stores and restaurants up and down both sides. Pedestrians walked down the center of the alley, parting only whenever a car would drive through.
On Saturday, we met up with a couple from Gumi-si who drove up to take us out to lunch and show us around – MG and Jeoung-In.
For background, MG grew up in South Korea and went to Arizona State with my best friend Dave. (Dave and his wife Sarah threw us an adoption shower last winter). MG and I had met once before during one of my trips to visit Dave in Arizona, but we had not seen each other since. When I reached out to him to let him know we were adopting and that we would be traveling to South Korea, he was extremely supportive and offered to help us in any way that he could.
Around noon, MG and Jeoung-In met us at our hotel and drove us to lunch at 몽중헌 페럼타워점 (Mong Jung Heon), a Korean Chinese restaurant. We had a delicious meal and wonderful conversations with them. They are two of the nicest people you could ever meet and both strong Christians. After lunch, they drove us back to our hotel and walked with us to a grocery store about 20-25 minutes away. They helped us with our shopping and got us a cab back to the hotel.
They even brought us a gift bag with protective masks for Brooks and for us, cookies, and two pre-loaded T-Money cards!
They invited us to visit them at their home in Gumi-si, and we plan to take them up on their offer after our court date. We remain so incredibly touched by their generosity and help. It is truly a blessing.
On Sunday, we decided to practice getting over to the Holt office in Mapo-gu using the subway. After a little confusion at our transfer station, we finally got the hang of it. The subway cars and stations were the cleanest I have ever seen, and we had no trouble getting where we needed to go.
After finding the Holt office, we decided to explore Mapo-gu a little. We walked to 943 King’s Cross – a Harry Potter themed café. Much like the road behind our hotel, it seemed like many of the really cool things in Mapo were off the beaten path and down these smaller roads.
We got a little turned around near Hongik University, but that allowed us to walk around the area and see a number of interesting shops and restaurants. The area definitely has the feel and energy of a typical college town.
After we made it back to our hotel, we had trouble finding a reasonably-priced restaurant that was open on a Sunday, so we decided to have Taco Bell delivered to our hotel to see how it compared to Taco Bell in America. There were definite differences, particularly in the flavor of the meats and the taste and texture of the cheese. It was good, but different than we were used to and more expensive than Taco Bell in America.
We have spent most of today resting and preparing for tomorrow when we get to meet Brooks for the first time. Our meeting will take place at 1:30 p.m. local time (11:30 p.m. Monday night in Wisconsin). We are both grappling with many different emotions. This has been nearly three years in the making, and it seems impossible that the time has finally come. We worry that any emotion besides unbridled joy is inappropriate, but we know that everything we are feeling – the questions, doubts, fears, and hopes that race through our mind – is normal. We are trying not to let the sheer enormousness of this moment overwhelm us and praying that God would bless our meeting. We ask that you keep us in your prayers as we prepare for this life-changing event.
Pro Gloria Dei
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you for guiding us through this long and difficult process and for continually teaching us to trust your plan. As with many things in life, we have not always been able to see the “why” in everything as we were going through, but, as always, you have worked each and every difficulty to our benefit.
We thank you for granting us safe travel and for removing some of the stumbling blocks that could have made our journey much more difficult. We thank you especially for blessing us with such a wonderful network of friends and family who have helped us, supported us, and prayed for us throughout this process.
As we prepare to meet Brooks for the first time, we ask that you continue to be with us and watch over us. Please help us to manage our expectations and to trust your plan. We especially pray for Brooks tonight. Please guard his heart and protect him as his life is about to change in ways that he cannot understand. Please also watch over his foster family as they prepare for this difficult transition.
Help us to fix our eyes on what is unseen and remind us that this difficult transition period will be but light and temporary trouble that is far outweighed by the eternal glory that awaits us in heaven thanks to the saving work of your Son, Jesus Christ.